« America's Amphibians On The Brink | Main | Dismantling Dodd-Frank — How Crazy Is This? »

05/29/2013

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Oliver

In response to your question, in my estimation "we" are broadly divided into a number of groups:

1- those who have gained no knowledge and therefore no perspective on the damage humankind is doing to the earth
2- those who know humans are doing some damage but don't care and prefer to live in denial, usually because they only focus on their own narrow interests, including earning money, filling their stomachs and desiring sex
3- those who understand the damage caused by humans and campaign to 'save the planet', believing this will make a difference if only people would goddam listen to them
4- those who are fully cognizant of the role played by humans in the degradation of the biosphere, but are equally aware that life will continue in a 'business as usual' vein, because of the ages-old entrenched system (a.k.a. capitalism) that perpetuates vested interests

As to what "we" are supposed to do about the continuous eco-damage, that depends on the group you belong to. Group 3 believes saving even one frog or one polar bear is worth the effort. Group 1 would answer "Huh?", while Group 2 would growl "Nothing!" and look away.

Group 4 - in which I place myself and I imagine includes most DOTE readers - has the biggest headache. The realistic answer is "Nothing", because of the impossibility of changing the way humans have been bludgeoning their way through life for millennia, but we are painfully aware that this apparently positions us too close to Group 2 for comfort.

If there was an easier answer, I'm guessing Mr Dave Cohen would be Wise Benevolent Dictator of the World, and we would be rapidly returning the earth to its pre-Homo pristine glory.

I now hand over the floor to the next delegate.

Oliver

PS - For arcane private reasons, I deliberately airbrushed out a 5th group: The Doomers. They (gleefully) believe we are fucked, the earth is fucked, nothing can be done and the entire ebb and flow of Life will be snuffed out two weeks from next Tuesday.

Dave Cohen

Hmmm...

Outside Oliver, nobody wants to discuss whether we have given up.

More on amphibians.

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-05-22/national/39443614_1_amphibians-invasive-species-yellow-legged-frog

“We knew they were declining and we didn’t know how fast,” said Michael J. Adams, a research ecologist for USGS and the lead author of the study, Trends in Amphibian Occupancy in the United States, published in the journal PLOS ONE. “It’s a loss of biodiversity. You lose them and you can’t get them back. That seems like a problem.”

Yes, that seems like a problem to me, too.

The disappearance of amphibians is a global phenomenon. But in the United States, it adds to a disturbing trend of mass vanishings that include honeybees and numerous species of bats along Atlantic states and the Midwest.

Yes, mass vanishings.

Frogs and their like are much more than slimy animals that come alive in the dark and croak; they are deeply woven into the lives of humans...

How so?

The offspring of frogs and toads, tadpoles, are the first organisms children watch in school as the creatures develop arms and legs. Adult amphibians are routinely dissected by many of those same children as they go through school.

Ah! The kiddies dissect them.

Scientists have produced pharmaceutical drugs from chemicals found in the skin of frogs and toads, and large numbers of amphibians are collected for medical research.

And we can get drugs from frogs and toads, too.

This is certainly not a good time to give up on the vanishing bees! Or the vanishing frogs!

After all, what would the children dissect?

And as you know, it's all for the children.

Brian

Have we given up?

Mostly, yes.

Theoretically, it depends on who "we" are.
Practically, it doesn't matter at all.

First, a large number are probably not cognizant at all of the various predicaments in which we find ourselves. So, I suppose that this might actually be the one group that has not given up, simply because they don't know they're in the game. Or, you could say they gave up because they didn't know the rules.

Second, the vast majority, while cognizant to some degree of the issues, are fully entrenched in the Business As Usual world in which short-term economic benefit trumps everything. These people simply want to live their lives and not have to deal with the issues... let somebody else fix it... don't we have a technology for that? This group has given up because there seems to be no short-term, cheap, easy solution.

Third, there are a few people who actively work, and even a smaller fraction who actually change their lifestyles in accordance with their stated goals, towards "solving" our problems or mitigating our predicaments. Unfortunately, these numbers are infinitesimally small and are largely operating under the delusion that humans really exhibit free will. That is, that people can and will actually permanently change their behavior, absent a crisis, because it is the long-term "right" thing to do. There is no evidence that this is the case, and, therefore, no evidence of some wide-ranging "free will". This group, has not given up, but are stuck in a world of false hope, unable to understand that the problem is humans and their inability, en masse, to change.

Which brings us to the final group. This group recognizes that human nature is what it is, that permanent changes in human nature are very slow (basically, evolutionary time frames), and that the humans that exist today will continue to behave in the same manner that got them where they are today. This continued behavior implies certain higher probability outcomes (most of which are not great for humans, and are much less great for virtually everything else), which are likely to result in some increasing number of existential crises. The only question is whether humans, within such crises, can truly and permanently change their nature and behavior. This group recognizes that this question is unanswerable until the crises are upon us. So, there is nothing to be done that can address the problems humans face, because human nature and behavior are the root cause of the problems that humans face. Under these circumstances, people in this group will hopefully give up and get on with making their own lives as meaningful as possible. This is more or less the "it is what it is" group. What few realists you meet will likely reside here.

Mark H. Burnham

In my opinion there is no "we" or groups of "we". Like microbes each human has an individual existence and a group existence. Individual microbes may make specific choices as they are perceived to benefit it specifically ... But their size relative to the group (1vs 7 billion) makes individual action irrelevant. It is the collective actions of the 7 billion that determine the outcome of an event, not the individual actions, attitudes, beliefs etc. At this time in human history we have gone from being a modest nuisance to the planet (say Pre-Industrial Revoution) to a world-wide pandemic. Just 7 billion microbes trying to eat, breathe, and have sex ... And those activities alone are fatal to our host's ability to accommodate us much longer. In my mind "we" are a 7 billion strong microbial infection and there are no antibiotics. It doesn't matter that a handful of microbes see the folly of the situation, there is no way to stem our collective destruction, no way to convince "the rest of us" to change our behavior to change our impact on the planet. Whimper or bang, it doesn't matter, the end result is the same. Simply living our lives at these numbers (7 billion and growing) makes the ultimate outcome inevitable. At some point our host can no longer sustain us, and then, we're gone.

Diogenes

Bad attitude? I don't see it that way. You swing away and give no quarter. Most don't like that - unless they're at a ball game.

Let's say "we" in this context are "realists" (slippery word there)...as embodied by Al Swearengen - as real a realist as I've ever seen. What are "we" supposed to do?

"...you've got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man. And give some back"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTKPVTVYZhM

btw - that's an all time great scene. Full version here...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF8aIa3QOkU

Now that's real pushback..."feces mounted in the corner"

Remi

I think what distinguishes the realists, the doomers and the environmentalists is that although they all believe that our current system cannot continue (climate change, resource limits, pollution, extinctions, financials, etc.), the doomers typically have a good idea of what will cause the downfall, when it will happen, and that they can get ready so that they are the ones that survive a certain apocalyptic scenario. They have given up on society but not on their own survival.
The environmentalists on the other hand have not given up on our current system, they devote their lives to try to make it "more" sustainable. This appeases their conscious that they have not given up. Although, more sustainable does not mean sustainable. It just means that we can more efficiently consume the resources that we have, so that maybe we can fit say 10 billion people on the planet before something gives. In my mind, the environmentalists are inadvertently making things worse. Most people believe our current system is not sustainable, but they can be free of stress because the environmentalists will invent something to fix the problems...
The realists know the system is fucked and that something is going to give. They don't know what will ultimately crash first, when it will happen, what will happen after, and they know nothing can prevent it from happening. There's not much you can do to prepare for something that is unknown. If it was just me, I wouldn't be doing anything. But with young kids, I have to try to get them ready to live in this fucked up world. I try to make sure they are healthy, in good physical condition, and that they learn skills that will always be handy regardless of what happens, whenever it happens.

atnorton

I wonder what the % of urban residents have ever been alone, outside with no visible/audible signs of people. If no one knows what to miss, how can they? How would it be possible for anyone to think they are not the center of the ubiverse? Frankly, it's depressing as hell.(o.k., I'm depressed as hell)

Shawn

Hi Dave, Since you asked, I want you to know that I read your blog pretty much every day. I find your desire toward realism refreshing. I would like to comment more often, but very difficult to find the time with work and family obligations. One thing re the doomer issue. It seems to me that while you regularly try to distinguish yourself from the doomers, you also seem have eeyoorish perspective on human nature. Not that is is entirely wrong, just that stikes me as a different kind of doomerism.

I'l keep reading if you keep writing. I'll also try to comment more substantively on particular blogs when I can.

Shawn

atnorton

I'm too bummed to even spell correctly--universe-(ubiverse).
Now off to a meeting to bring Kennedy Space Center into the 21 century.

Juan Pueblo

Re: Increasing reader responses.
If you can add a link to the comments section on your RSS feeds, it would drive more traffic to your blog and comments section. I read your blog on IE's RSS reader, and I've noticed and used those links to comments on other blog's RSS feeds. Sometimes, after reading a post, you want to see if there are comments, and having that link at the bottom of the feed makes it a one click proposition. Otherwise, you have to scroll back up to the post's title, click on that, load the page, and scroll down to the comments section.
Thanks for your work, Dave!

rumor

I haven't yet got to Carlin's being divorced from it all, nor can I decide whether he was entirely sincere about that when he said it. I don't think he could have been as caustic as he was if he really was so divorced. It's the cynicism that drives our dark humour, the disconnect between what we know about our potential as a species and what we fail to achieve, and here I'll draw a nexus for a "we". We suffer that pain of shattered hope, of continual and daily disappointment in our species and by extension ourselves.

Why *shouldn't* we go gently into the night of our own making? Maybe simply because it makes us feel better not to. Is that vanity or pride? Even when we accept the failings of human nature, and accept how utterly inescapable they are, we still can't get away from them. Knowledge is not freedom, here. So vanity or pride it is, since optimism is accepted as pointless. Am I moving towards humility here... or nihilism?

Robert

Evolution probably includes new modifications appearing, some old vanishing. In my area, there is a frog resurgence.

Juan Pueblo

I guess "we" would be realists like Remi indicates.
I, personally, have given up. I saw this coming since my early childhood. I am happily married, had a vasectomy and no children. We work and kayak, camp and fish in our free time.
I've reached the conclusion that the less we all do, the better.

Dave Cohen

@Shawn

Re: you also seem have eeyoorish perspective on human nature. Not that that is entirely wrong, just that it strikes me as a different kind of doomerism

Yes, I suppose it is. The people I call Doomers will likely be right about our fate, eventually, but for the wrong reasons.

You see, I see Doomers as part of the problem. Running around getting hysterical about crashes, collapses and such is not helpful to anyone except those announcing them, who often make a living doing so.

And that's just typical human behavior, only with a negative spin instead of a positive spin.

In so far as it is typical human behavior which got us into this mess, and will make the mess worse as time goes on, Doomers are part of the problem, not part of any possible solution.

Or, they're just stupid, or crazy, or both. They certainly don't care about science, data or facts, except when these suit their purposes (cherry-picking). Sometimes they just make shit up.

That's how I see it -- they're just as fucked up as the optimists.

-- Dave

rumor

And this seems remarkably relevant today. Ian Welsh:

"One of the reasons I write so little these days, is that there is so little point. Basic ethical principles are routinely ignored even on the so-called left. Basic principles of causation are ignored. Basic economic reality is ignored. And virtually everyone in the so-called democracies is scrambling to pretend that they have no responsibility for anything that has happened.

[...]

We are monsters. And we tolerate monsters."

http://www.ianwelsh.net/ethics-101-part-3-forseeable-consequences/

Whether its social or innate, humans seem to universally fear the bogeyman. We orient ourselves in a universe where we are central and right and good, or at least neutral and harmless, and dangerous things, dark things, shadowy things, Bad Things, are lurking on the outside. But when you look long and hard at human behaviour and history, I think you might conclude, as I did, that we are the bogeymen. We're the Bad Thing, the Monsters, but we don't believe we are. We always start from the premise that we're the innocent, Good victims.

And then I wonder whether going gentle into the night is better after all.

Also, I'm going to stop using that poetic metaphor now. It's damnably apt, but I'm feeling a bit too pretentious at this point.

Dave Cohen

@rumor

Like the Ian Welsh! I feel a post coming on...

-- Dave

Ken Barrows

I have no children, so that shortens the time horizon a bit. I say to myself that I care what happens to my niece and nephews, so I'll state to people that things will change (for the worse) if prompted.

The cost/benefit analysis on trying to persuade others, though, is pretty low. I do know that my view of the world may be completely off. It is possible (in the infinitesimal sense) that, for example, global warming won't ever happen.

After all, the picknickers at a 1925 lynching probably never thought human nature would allow the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

ThreeEs

All we can do is participate in localization projects, especially food. All the labels are distractions, who cares. Put a pond in your yard, grow native plants, attract bees, grow your own food, etc. Convince other to make changes, We are our actions.

Chris

Does anyone believe anything the Bible has to offer? Let me guess?

Oliver

@Chris - pray do elaborate.

Oliver

@Remi

...doomers...get ready so that they are the ones that survive a certain apocalyptic scenario

I am fascinated that these guys have such large egos that they believe they ought to survive post-apocalypse. If the world will be so catastrophically fucked up, what is the point of their continuance? Self-importance seems a rather redundant trait after the 'event'.

Jim

Chris, I actually think the abject failure of man to "love thy neighbor as thyself" explains a lot of what's wrong. We don't love our neighbor, or anything that implies (any definition of "we") nearly as much as we love ourselves.

As to what's wrong, and what to do about it, can an ant move a mountain (the mountain being all the problems we face)? Because that's about the sum of it. Actually, it's harder than that. Imagine that the ant has no biological drive to move the mountain and instead has a strong urge to just work on its own anthill. And imagine all the other ants have the same urge and ignore or ridicule any individual efforts to move the mountain. And imagine the systems in place require the ant to make its own anthill before even considering moving the mountain, or else the ant becomes so disenfrachised that simply surviving becomes its own mountain.

There is no single problem unless the single problem is man itself. That's a radical and entirely off-limits consideration for most people, though, so most will focus on individual and easily demonized problems - such as Third World poverty, or bee colony collapse, or climate change, or the greed of the 1%. These are all problems, to be sure, but they are symptoms only. Even if one of them was "solved" (an unlikely proposition in itself), man will still have all the other problems and will constantly create new problems on top of them.

Man needs a radical re-evaluation of what are the true priorities of life, or man needs a collective lobotomy, or perhaps Homo Sapiens Sapiens was always an evolutionary dead end.

Most of our clever solutions only exacerbate, prolong, or spread our problems. "Giving up" to me seems to be the only sane approach (although I wouldn't deny the nobility of quixotic activism). The mountain will eventually move, anyway, but it will almost certainly not move because of the ants.

Oliver

@Jim - can you hear the thunderous noise from here? It's applause.

Alexander Ač

Dave,

"it's all for the children." - Oh yes, of course, fuck-ups on my blog often advise me to "find a girlfriend and have a children" and stop writing about global problems.

Reading that, I tend to think global problems are the true reason of our collective shit we are in - together with our children...

Alex

Alexander Ač

Sory, once again - "having children is the true reason of the collective shit we are in"... and the previous comment went to spam :-)

Alex

Gaianne

Dave--

You asked for comments the other day, so I thought I would check in. I read your blog because you are an engaging writer and because you come up with stories that are of interest and relevant. I would mention your linking to Jeremy Jackson as an example.

I knew that doomerism had come of age, practically entered the mainstream (though not quite, not really) when doomers began to argue amongst themselves over who was a doomer or not a doomer and whether or not it was good to be a doomer at all. So we can argue over that. Fast crash, slow crash, sooner/later, et cetera. In my own view, we are in the crash already, and this is what it looks like--not heroic or romantic, rather just a sort of gray, grim, grind. That it is bad is clear, but where it goes is not clear, and I personally see no reason to funk it, like Guy McPherson and the NTE (that's Near Term Extinction) folks. Not just yet, anyway.

Today's topic is: Have we given up? Well, as a nation (that is, the US) the decision was made back in 1980 to do nothing, continue Business As Usual, and accelerate as fast as possible at the wall. I remember it well, and knew it was bad, but only later began to realize the deeper implications. That personal revelation did not sink in until 2003. Meanwhile, as a nation, our course--our decision of 1980--remains unchanged, so yes, indeed we have given up, and long since, too.

Personally, I am learning things that might enhance survival at the local level--like organic gardening, just for example. I don't imagine everyone will be saved, nor think it sure that anyone will be saved: The future is really opaque to a degree which we are not (and unlikely to get) used to.

About the frogs: I am not sure how well they are doing in my region although the peepers seem to be doing fine. The article about frog disappearance is really annoying in one respect: It has been YEARS since we were first alerted to the possibility that a chemical called atropine widely used in industrial agriculture might be killing water-life (including frogs) and yet our current authors have no clue!? It seems to me that research (both journalistic and scientific) gets sloppier by the day! Don't get me wrong: I am not shocked, just dismayed. This is what decline looks like; it is as expected as it is disheartening.

Ian Welsh has it right: As the signal to noise on the internet declines, it gets harder to find things to say. Certainly engaging the enveloping madness offers small benefit.

However, I am still watching, and still reading.

--Gaianne

Mike Roberts

When I use the word "we" in the context of human behaviour, I'm including myself. I've been a part of everything we've done wrong. I've contributed to our complete ignorance that actions have effects. When I see tragedies like the Macondo blow-out or an oil spill resulting from a bad ship captain's decision, I can see that those things wouldn't have happened if we didn't insist on living like there is no tomorrow (perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy), and I was, and am, a part of that.

To me, collapse is already underway. Collapse is usually too slow to notice as a collapse until it reaches its inevitable conclusion. That may take a century or two (though I suspect our complete reliance on this global economy, and our environmental impact will hasten the effects of collapse). I don't see any long lasting economic recovery ever happening. Peak oil was the thing that first started the brain cells working. I think that's a factor in the lack of real recovery but it certainly turned out a much slower process than my doomer self imagined. However, that started me out on an awareness change where environmental degradation began to astonish me at its rapidity.

Environmental damage is now my personal driver. Remi hit it with the phrase "more sustainable" and I might rephrase his comment by saying that the term, to me, just means "less unsustainable", i.e. not a whole lot better, really. I get frustrated by so-called greenies who don't seem to understand sustainable. But I also get frustrated that sustainable living seems to be out of reach. The skills stopped being handed down a long time ago and the environment is so fucked up by so many humans wanting to live unsustainably (that seems a crazy thing to want) that I'm not sure it would ever be possible to live sustainably. Once humans have been pared down to a few hundred million, maybe they will appear to be living sustainably but there will always be that old human nature screaming to get out. With so much refined raw materials that will be available in the ruins of our civilisation, eventually "we" will start to make use of them and it'll be deja vu all over again.

Thanks for reading this far! Your post kind of pulled out a cork here but I've forced myself to stop, thankfully.

Clyde

I haven't given up as such, you can't give up something over which you have no control. I've just accepted that things are what they are and, therefore, the best that I can do is to enjoy what there is to enjoy out of life while I can: Friends, family, home-grown food and wine, walking with the dogs, music.
I'm not going to waste my life working until I drop, worrying about thing I cannot control, buying useless junk, and so on.
I'm not even going to waste time trying to persuade others anymore as I know that doesn't achieve anything. And I feel better for it.
Knowledge is liberating.

Clyde

rumour - "It's the cynicism that drives our dark humour, the disconnect between what we know about our potential as a species and what we fail to achieve"

If potential is never realised then what use is it? Does it even exist? Do we really have the potential to achieve wonderous things or are we just clogging up the planet preventing another, more suitable species from discovering what the universe is made of?

sinnycool

Hi guys, it's easy to identify with much of what you've said and you've said it well.

There are so many ways of saying effectively the same thing...

- our selfish genes are demonstrably capable of sacrificing their host (Dawkins)
- we evolved with tribal imperatives within effectively regenerative environments until [fossil fuels] + [technology] => [exponential limits] (Prof Bartlett) so this is our very first global effort and thus outside our design parameters ;-)
- graphs of human population v's oil, yeast in a sugar solution and St Mathew's Island reindeer can all be readily surmised to end up looking the same shape.

The obvious question "Does sentience make any difference?" looks like being answered with a resounding "no".

How we as individuals perceive our situation and how we react to it comprise that delightfully variable stuff that natural selection acted upon to get us here so we shouldn't get cross or surprised that our responses range from denial to doomer.

adam

atnorton has a point. Many, many people have no familiarity with animals and plants. The closest neighbors they know of are cockroaches and pigeons. Fish is something that comes as a filet, beef is that red meat stuff and chicken is the pink stuff. They may have seen fish and chickens and cows but the amount of contact is so low that they have no connection to them. Without a connection, how do you recognize the issues? If you never see the fish alive, do you miss them when they're gone?

That said, there is also the cultural factor - in many places, China and Japan for example, the tendency to see living things as "delicious" before anything else prevails. Those tuna are not "majestic and graceful" but rather look really edible. I understand this one to some extent (as a meat eater) but ultimately it strikes me as ignorant. Or maybe just lacking in some factor that seems basic.

So, who is "we"? Ultimately all of humanity is "we" in one sense. Our collective decision, something no one of us makes, is what determines the outcome. Like an anthive, or a bee colony. And that collective "we" does not care, as it is a "we" stripped of individual feeling or will.

If we break it down, take it apart instead, well, there is a "we" that cares. But in order for that "we" to be effective they have to somehow change the whole of society. Because as it is now, every part of the system is aligned against nature. Take lake Erie - first a dump for industrial pollution, problem is fixed to a very significant degree, but then it becomes a dump for agricultural pollution - literally there is no concept of holding back, every aspect of society moves on aggressively so even if care is taken to "fix" some problem it comes back again shortly. I am not sure whether that is written in the cards or not - some societies at some times have lived in balance with nature, and had a healthy respect for nature... But that is not how our society, the global society, works.

Perhaps "we" who care and have some means have an obligation to rage against it, to try to change it. I think that's heroic. On the other hand, it's the type of heroic where the outcome is much more likely to be failure than success.

step back

"We" are tired.
We are "drained".
Much as the wet lands that sustain the frogs have slowly drained to the point where the frogs cannot keep up anymore, our way of life has slowly shriveled up under us without our realization to a point where are treading water as fast as we can just to keep heads above water.

There is no more energy to fight the good fight against climate change, bee hive collapse, nuke power, etc.

The collapse has already begun.
Our inability to fight against its causes is proof that our swamp is already half drained. Both husband and wife must work to stay alive. The young no longer can find jobs and "launch" into independent lives of their own. They are emotionally depressed and financially ruined. How then can they find the spare energy to carry on with an "occupy" style fight? They can't.

Imagine as an analogy, a frog town where the tadpoles can't fend for themselves. The parent frogs must then focus all their energies on preserving their young. A local concern. There is no room and spare energies for focusing on global issues. "We" are those frogs.

Greg Reynolds

Yes Dave, We have given up. Not necessarily you and me as individuals, but as far as America, and perhaps most of the rest of the world, it is Game Over. We are toast. So are we (you and me) chumps for not grabbing everything that we can and not stepping on the fingers of those on the ladder behind us ?

Greg

The comments to this entry are closed.